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Would You Call 911 After Seeing a Dog Locked in a Hot Car?

On a weekend trip I saw a little black dog inside an SUV when it was hot and the worst kind of humid.

 |  Sep 10th 2013  |   56 Contributions


For Labor Day, my partner and I took our dogs out of New York City for a long weekend upstate. We have cottages that we love to stay in, we open the door to a yard, and we are next to a meadow where at twilight you can see deer and hike down a short trail to the forest and a swimming hole. For city people and city dogs, this is paradise. We spent the weekend playing outside, dodging thunderstorms and hiking in the nearby nature preserves. On Saturday afternoon we crated our dogs at the cottage and drove into town. We spent the afternoon wandering shops and then late in the afternoon got ready to head back to our cottage to take the dogs out for some fun, and were met with a terrifying sight and an ethical dilemma.

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happy dogs after a day of hiking

When we got back to our car, I was startled by hearing lots of barking in the deserted parking lot. Then, I saw him, a little black dog sitting in a white SUV next to our car. It was hot and the worst kind of soupy humid. The windows of the SUV were cracked, but we all know that doesn't actually make a car safe to leave a dog in. The little dog was clearly distressed and unfortunately seemed even more upset by seeing us near his car; he became more and more agitated the longer we stayed. Reluctantly we climbed into our car. I didn't know what to do, but I knew I couldn't leave without doing anything. Pulling my cell phone out of my purse I dialed 911 ...

The benefits of vacationing in a small town was that the 911 operator didn't laugh at me for making this sort of call. Instead he took down the information about where the car was parked, as well as the license plate number, and said that an officer would be coming by to check on the dog. It was a small town, I think officers have time to do things like check on dogs left in hot cars in places like that. I need to believe that's the case. As I hung up the phone with the police and we drove out of the parking lot and back to the cottage where our dogs rested comfortably, I wondered how anyone could be so cruel to leave their dog locked in a car on the last day of August.

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Dog sculpture I found in town right before we found the dog in the car

That afternoon I posted to my Facebook and Twitter that I had made the 911 call and got a lot of feedback from friends. Most were supportive of my having made the call, talking about how it was the right thing to do, and their shock that someone would have been so cruel to a dog. Other, more radical friends suggested that a 911 call hadn't been enough, that a dog's life hung in the balance and that I should have acted. They suggested that after calling 911 I should have broken a window on the SUV to free the dog. I'm not suggesting that someone who does that is in the wrong, more so that it's not an approach I would feel comfortable doing.

I don't know what happened to that dog I saw this weekend. I like to think that the police got to him in time and somehow educated his family about the dangers of keeping a dog in a parked car. Of course I don't know if this is what actually happened, if the police responded to the call, if the dog was OK by the time that they got there, if the family even would have cared about the dangerous situation they left their dog in. It was difficult to know what to do in that moment when we saw the dog. Although I have no way of knowing if my action of making the phone call was able to help the dog, I still believe it was the right decision, and in a really challenging situation was the most I was able to offer the poor dog.

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I wish all dogs could be this happy

How about you? Have you ever been put in a position where you have seen someone abusing or otherwise endangering a dog? How have you responded? Are you more likely to call the authorities like I did, or do you adopt the take-things-into-your-own-hands approach to situations like this?

About the author: Sassafras Lowrey is a dog-obsessed author based in Brooklyn. She is the winner of the 2013 Berzon Emerging Writer Award from the Lambda Literary Foundation, and the editor of two anthologies and one novel. Sassafras is a Certified Trick Dog Instructor, and she assists with dog agility classes. She lives with her partner, two dogs of dramatically different sizes, and two bossy cats. She is always on the lookout for adventures with her canine pack. Learn more at her website.

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